Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Glimpse of Sunshine, Forest Tales, Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto, and no Regrets!

Last weekend I arrived in Scotland amidst storms and some of the highest tides of the year for a 10 day autumn break in my favourite costal village of Kippford. I love coming here at any time of the year, but late autumn is wonderful. The weather is what I call emotional. The wind blowing off the sea can howl one day and the next gently whisper. The rain can be monsoon like but can also provide the autumnal colours with a shiny gloss, and the sky can be transformed in an instant as the suns rises, shines and sets.

Likewise, the surroundings meet other needs. The tide comes in and goes out, leaving pristine beaches to walk upon, the forests and hills are deserted, open and full of life and excitement. On one walk I came across Ginger, a highland cow wandering through the woods. Not sure who was the most surprised. This trip I discovered the craft and art of dyke building. These are low stone walls, made without mortar, that mark out property boundaries. Neither fences nor gates are used to contain or confine, just the dykes. 

Kevin, a bike riding Master Carpenter with a disturbingly large number of missing fingers, introduced me to one such craftsman called Alan. He had just seen a group of wild boars in Dalbettie Forest and was very excited. I found it interesting that long after the last bacon buttie has been eaten his handiwork will be seen in and around the village for a long time to come.

Unlike perhaps those Kippford folk who continue to smoke cigarettes. Unbelievably, while having a glass of real ale in the local pub (The Anchor – more of which later), one of the bar room conversations was about Speedboat Norm (aka Norman who is married to Fifi). Norm is recovering from a recent triple heart bypass surgery following a major coronary. It appeared that on the day of his coronary when Norm first starting feeling unwell, he first mowed his front lawn, and then went on a bike ride to see if that would make him feel any better! He smoked for much of his adult life.

So it was good to hear, last week, that the supermarket Sainsbury announce that it would stop selling tobacco from a further 6 of their supermarkets in Scotland. Sensibly, the Scottish government has introduced a health levy on the business rates paid by large stores selling cigarettes and alcohol. Sainsbury's already operates 3 supermarkets and 1 convenience store in Scotland which do not sell tobacco. The public health levy will contribute towards the costs of preventative programmes that are being taken forward jointly with the Scottish government, local authorities, the NHS and the third sector to tackle smoking and alcohol related health problems. I cannot understand why we still sell cigarettes to our students from a shop located in the College of Health and Social Care – but I have an appointment to discuss this with the VC on the 4th Dec, so watch this space.

Back in Kippford and the local village pub, The Anchor, has often been an oasis in times of emotional weather - offering a warm welcome, real ale, roaring log fires, and good gastro pub food. The Anchor serves a wonderful Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto, one of my favourite choices when eating out. This week, despite it being on the menu, there wasn’t a chef in the kitchen to prepare it until yesterday. The risotto was delightful, as were the tales of the deer seen grazing in the fields surrounding the village, and of the Red Kite seen soaring on the thermals. There were stories about Lindsey’s dilemma over making house building plans or holiday taking plans, and of Emma, described as a single generation hippie, now working in the Krueger National Park in South Africa, and whether she would be coming back to Kippford.

Finally, huge thanks to the Blackwater Bistro in near by Castle Douglas, whose free WiFi has made sending this post possible. Kind of ironic, that last week Dr T, (after Miss Otis regrets she is unable to dine tonight) is at last, now able to connect to the web in a fine dining establishment. So this posting is a little early this week, but better an early blog than no blog at all. Things will be back to normal next Sunday morning.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Dr T Regrets

Dr T regrets he's unable to post a blog today

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Going Dutch, the Morning After Breakfast, and the Magnificent 7

Last week was an interesting one. For the first time in 5 years I had an interview for a job. Usual preparation undertaken, hair trimmed, suit dry cleaned, the one tie located and sponged cleaned, bright smile practiced in the mirror. Tuesday dawned and it was Lights, Action, and Camera. I really enjoyed the interview process. For me, it was a little like being on a stage, albeit it was a rather small and somewhat intimate audience. I thought I had done a good job and felt things had gone well. There was the usual wait and then...

...well the then occurred while I was at Manchester Airport the following morning. My phone rings and a voice says ‘sorry not calling with good news I’m afraid’. Now at the time I was negotiating what a vegetarian Full English Breakfast should entail with an Italian waiter in a so called Italian restaurant priding itself on providing the best breakfast in Terminal 3. Whilst the news wasn’t particularly appetising, the FEB was FAB.

I was at the airport, en-route to a medieval town in Holland called Zwolle – pronounced Svolla. I was going there to take part in Workshop 5 of the EmpNURS project. The EmpNURS project aims to advance the empowerment of nursing through mentorship. The EU funded project is made up of 11 partner organisations located in the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, the Netherlands and United Kingdom.

The workshop was attended by 21 colleagues drawn from all the partnership organisations - and we all pitched up at the Hotel Fidder. Just take a look at the pictures on this web site:;label=msn-VIqUy1jDwtPLuDssWIaucA

I was last at this hotel some 4 years ago and loved it then and if anything, the place grew on me even more this time. If you have a spare weekend and are wondering how to spend it, whizz across to Amsterdam, catch the train to Zwolle and have yourself a great time. And hats off to Collin, who was the most attentive host at the Hotel; absolutely nothing was too much trouble for him.

The Workshop was a successful one and much progress was made. However, there is 1 more year to go and now we must find the evidence to illustrate the sustainability of the projects outcomes. Not as easy as it sounds. With this many countries involved, there are many opportunities for differences in interpretation of ideas, concepts, the words used to describe experiences and so on. Our hosts, Ernia, Nicole and Valerie from the Windesheim University of Applied Sciences provided a perfect place to address these differences and plan a united way forward.

Whilst the trip was a very good one, there were a couple of downsides. No 1, we were given bikes to use to get from the Hotel to the University. This was a journey that was probably the most frightening of my life. No 2, well that was the train journey to Schipol Airport. I was travelling with my colleague Karen. Once on the train we found our seats were in the quiet carriage. So we said OK, lets not use our iPods or phones. We settled down to sandwiches and coffee and some catch up conversations. 3 times we were told, with various levels of anger, that we were in the quiet carriage and that meant NO talking. Silence meant silence. It seemed a strange, almost over the top reaction in country whose government legalised prostitution in 2000.

Interestingly, the World Health Organisation reports that sexually transmitted diseases are a major global cause of acute illness, infertility, long term disability and severe medical and psychological consequences for millions of men, women and children. However, the World Health Organization makes no comment about the health risks associated with talking on trains or riding on bikes.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Measuring Up to the Acronyms and Numbers

For many reasons, last week saw me preoccupied with thoughts of measurement. This stream of consciousness was started by the story that staff working at the Department of Health had racked up a bill for £331,644 on ‘refreshments’ for staff and visitors last year. This story is set against a back cloth of the NHS having to make £20bn of savings by 2015, with many hospitals reducing the numbers of nurses and other health care professionals. I wondered what was being measured here – after the entire overall budget for the NHS is nearly £110bn, give or take a million or so.

So my quest was on. The numerical metric is king, and these days it feels like we have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for everything. But as William Deming the great management theorist has reminded us, relying only on measurable figures without consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable is one of the big 7 ‘deadly diseases’ of many organisations. Numbers can sometimes be verifiable, but as Universities have seen with the introduction of Key Information Sets (KIS). KIS is meant to provide comparable sets of information about undergraduate courses. It has been designed to meet the information needs of prospective students (or more likely their parents) when choosing a University. But a quick scan through the Unistats website shows that there is little uniformity in the way degree programmes are described.

And how does one truly measure ‘satisfaction’- a key indicator in the KIS and National Student Survey (NSS) metrics. What does 89% overall satisfaction mean? Is 89% satisfaction in Bristol the same as 89% satisfaction in Bolton, or Bradford? Likewise, is it  possible to ever measure happiness, being in love, or future success? Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winning economist and psychologist has had a go at measuring happiness. He said below an income of £37,332 a year, people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, there is an absolutely flat line of happiness. Money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery.

As reported here earlier in the year an Australian mathematics professor, Tony Dooley at the University of New South Wales created an equation, nicknamed the ‘FiancĂ©e Formula’ which works by factoring in the age at which you start looking for a long-term partner and the absolute oldest age you would consider getting married. However, his mathematical equation for love only has a 37% success rate.

Future success? Well Daniel Kahneman again, he notes we don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences. Even when we think about the future, we don’t think of our future normally as experiences. We think of our future as anticipated memories. A notion, however, which relies upon developing a reference point which can be used to make judgements about what we have done without still being able to measure what it we might have achieved. In the KIS information this measure is the number of students who get a graduate job - which is like knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Health Education England, the new body responsible for spending some £7bn on educating and training the health care workforce has come up with a plan to do tackle this issue – perhaps borrowing from the Research Excellence Framework rhetoric, that want to establish a clear line of sight between education and service improvements and patient outcomes. Their Education Outcomes Framework focuses on 5 domains: Excellent education; Competent and capable staff; Adaptable and flexible workforce; NHS values and behaviours’; Widening participation. Each has metrics developed to a greater or lesser degree. It is the values and behaviours domain I am particularly interested in, and this is the area that is perhaps the hardest to measure. If anyone was going to ask me how I would address this area I would like to say it would be through my ability to create positive ripples throughout the whole School and beyond so that colleagues find inspiration for making nuanced and creative contributions to the lives of others – just how I would ever measure this though is the difficult part – all thoughts welcome.